CROATIAN WINE: UNDERRATED, UNDERSTATED…AND UNSURPASSED
First thing’s first: how do you order wine in Croatia?
Croatian restaurants classify wine in ascending order of quality, so you can decide where your taste buds (and vacation budget) are leading you on your Croatian vacation.
- "stolno" (table wine)
- "kvalitetno" (quality wine)
- "vrhunsko" (premium wine).
CROATIA’S TIPSY WINE HISTORY
Wine production, like olive oil, has played a critical role in Croatia’s cultural heritage and history. In fact, Croatia endures as one of the oldest wine regions in the world.
Croatia can easily claim over 2,500-years worth of wine production, with records showing Greek settlers began cultivating grape vineyards on the islands of Vis, Hvar, and Korčula around 390 BC. That being said, recent discovers indicate that Illyrians living in Dalmatia were cultivating grapes in the Bronze Age.
A DELICIOUS, AWARD-WINNING LEGACY
Croatia cultivates 62 indigenous grape varieties, producing an incredibly wide range of wine styles both beloved and obscure.
Perhaps Croatia’s most well-known grape is the zinfandel grape, which had previously been California’s most mysterious “orphan.” In Croatia, however, the zinfandel grape produces a wine known as primitivo, produced from the grape crljenak kastelanski (three cheers to anyone who can pronounce the name).
Many of Croatia’s wines are gaining in popularity in their own right, however, including varietals of orange wine. Orange wine has been making its introductions in the U.S. over the last several years, with many reigning it as the “new rosé.” A bit more substantial that the traditional white or rosé, orange wine provides the refreshing chill of lighter wines with the depth of reds.
Croatian wines hit the top of the wine lists in New York for a reason: they are absolutely delicious. In fact, readers and experts of USA Today ranked Croatia in the top 5 wine regions in the world—beating out powerhouses such as Napa Valley and Tuscany.
FUN FACT: Anthony Bourdain visited Croatia during the filming of his show No Reservations and was beyond impressed, exclaiming, “Why, oh why, is there so much amazing wine in this country?”
CROATIA’S WINE REGIONS
Croatia is in many ways a land of vineyards, with more than 300 geographically determined wine districts enclosed within an area smaller than the state of West Virginia.
Croatia has two primary wine regions: Primorska Hrvatska (coastal Croatia) and Kontinentalna Hrvatska (continental Croatia). These two regions are divided into 12 subregions, which are then further carved up into more manageable vinogorje (or, literally, “wine hills”). Croatia’s vinogorje unfurl from the Dalmatian coast up to the north in Slavonia.
With so many vinorgorje stretched across Croatia, it’s hard to know what to look for! Here’s a list of some wine favorites by Croatian region:
- On Krk Island, look for Žlahtina
- In Poreč, look for Cabernet
- In Istria’s Buzet, look for Sauvignon, Merlot, and Terrano
- On the Pelješac Peninulsa, look for Postup and Dingač
- In Primošten, look for Babić
- In Vis, look for Vugava
- In Bol, look for Plavac Mali (or really, throughout Dalmatia)
- In Dubvronik, look for Malmsey/Malvasia
- In Korčula, look for Pošip and Grk
As our list is no means comprehensive, check out Chasing the Donkey’s well researched list: 20 of Croatia’s top wineries.
KEY THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CROATIAN WINE
Croatia’s wine region of Plešivica—sometimes known as Croatia’s Champagne—is renowned for its international grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling. As its moniker might tell you, Plešivica is best known for its sparkling wines.
Plešivica lies about an hour drive from capital Zagreb, and the region is definitely a hotspot on the Croatian wine map. In fact, the Plešivica Wine Road truly can be found on maps. The Plešivica Wine Road opened up in 2001; on it, about 40 wineries are there for the tasting. Some of Plešivica’s most prominent producers are Korak, Tomac, and Šember.
Golden Valley (Vallis Aurea)
The wine region Vallis Aurea, otherwise known as Slavonia’s “Golden Valley,” has been central to Croatian winemaking since the Illyrians appearance. Visitors can find the distinguished vineyards of Cotes du Rhone, Bordeaux, Piedmont, and Oregon there.
You might recognize Croatia’s Tribidrag red grape variety as Italy’s Primitivo or California’s Zinfandel—and it hails from Dalmatia. In Dalmatia, you might hear it referred to as Crljenak Kaštelanski or Pribidrag if not Tribidrag. If you’re big on zin, check out these great Dalmatian producers: Mimica from Omiš, Rizman from Komarna, Bedalov and Vuina from Kašela, and Stina from Brač.
Likely Croatia’s most famous wine region, Dingač can be found on the Pelješac peninsula. Some of Croatia’s best red wines are produced here on the sprawling karst landscape from Plavac Mali grapes.
Experiencing bottleshock from perusing lists upon lists of Croatian wines? Or, perhaps, seen the movie Bottleshock—with the fantastically-voiced Alan Rickman—in which Chateau Montelena’s Californian Chardonnay defeated French white Burgundies in a blind taste testing? Bottleshock’s real-life events have gone down in history as the Judgment of Paris, and Mike Grgich (aka Miljenko Grgić), the winemaker of Napa’s Chateau Montelena’s winning 1973 blend, comes from Dalmatia and owns wineries in Croatia as well as California.
Try out Gemišt, a popular Croatian drink made by mixing white wine (yum… Graševina) with sparkling water. You’ll find Gemišt more commonly in northern Croatia. It’s usually prepared to taste, with differing ratios of wine to water. So sip on some samples of find your perfect blend! You can sample all these and more on our Taste of Croatia Tour.